The 21st century has been an interesting time for the Blue Jays in terms of the MLB Draft. It started with J.P. Riccardi taking over, and instituting an approach almost singularly focused on drafting college players, who at one point were systemically undervalued (though that gap was essentially gone). Towards the end, he started drafting prep players again, but to little success.
Then came his successor Alex Anthopoulos, who went in literally the complete opposite direction even though he was an integral part of the former regime. Though the Jays took a number of college pitchers at the top of the draft, they bet and spent aggressively on high school players. This was particularly the case over the first three years, and as we have seen looking at recent drafts, to mixed results (which of course was much better than what came before).
2017 marked the second draft in the Shapiro era, but the first with their own scouting director installed as Steve Sanders was in charge after the dismissal of Brian Parker. So let’s break down the 2017 draft, compare it to the 2016 draft for indications about what’s to come shortly in 2018.
The first thing that stands out is that the Blue Jays did not sign a single high school pitcher, particularly given how vigoriously they used to invest in this demographic. They more than made up for it on the college side, with over half the signed draftees being college pitchers, a well as Nate Pearson out of a Florida junior college in the first round.
Looking just at volume can be very misleading, since the last 20 rounds will be almost all college players, many of whom are signed mostly to fill out rosters and are not significant prospects. Every team will have more college players signed, without that saying anything about their priorities. That’s where it’s useful to look at overall spending, as well as different thresholds.
Of the 16 bonuses over the $100,000 level, only two went to high school players, with a skew towards position players (10 for hitters, six for pitchers). Looking at the $250,000 threshold, which are only going to draftees teams really like, the breakdown was 4-2 for position players, and 5-1 college over high school.
There’s an interesting dichotomy. The Jays spent most heavily on college hitters, with almost 45% of their spending occurring there. But it was heavily concentrated with that spread to just nine players, of whom almost half got bonuses over $250,000. On the pitching side, they drafted a lot of college arms, but the bonuses were dispersed, with Pearson the only big one.
In total, about only one-in-six dollars went to the high school side, and about one third going to pitchers.
Let’s compare that to 2016:
The trends above are largely the same. Despite a different scouting director, who allocated dollars very differently in his previous time, it would appear the preferences of the new regime dominated. So let’s look at the breakdown for the two years combined:
Overall, the Jays have drafted slightly more pitchers than position players, but nothing outside norms (in fact, likely right at what’s typical of most teams). Dollars wise, the skew is about 60% in favour of hitters however. The big skew is that just under 25% of the spending has been on high school draftees, so the clear focus is on college players.
But all that spending is not equal. While the spending is roughly equal on the college side between hitters and pitchers, they’ve drafted almost twice as many pitchers. About 40% of college position players (including junior college) are receiving significant bonuses of $250,000 or more, whereas only about 10% of pitchers have.
On the high school side, they have invested in some blue chip hitter draftees, namely Bo Bichette and Hagen Danner. What they have almost entirely ignored is high school pitchers, with just one significant bonus, an overslot deal to Travis Hosterman who was picked on the third day.
Of course, these are just (seemingly very strong) tendencies, not destiny. It’ll be interesting to see how these tendencies mix with the talent available. In particular, this draft is really deep with high school arms, and many of these are inevitably going to fall into the second, third and fourth rounds. There could be some excellent value where the Jays have generally preferred college players.